Comfort zone

In my research I came across many stories of head chefs feeling guilty or being made to feel guilty about prioritising their own work-life balance. I don’t know how you might personally deal with that dilemma, but in this post I will share some truths that might help you.

Most people look to their jobs to provide learning, growth and a sense of meaning. As a leader, you’re holding a space for them to experience all of that. And that sometimes means drawing them out of their comfort zones. But it’s for you to manage that delicate balance between all your responsibilities here: to make sure things get done, to facilitate someone’s growth and to honour your own needs.

The world is watching..

In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…
This is the inter-related structure of reality.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past 2.5 years, I have repeatedly used these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. to emphasise why we need to treat each other well in the kitchen. But we shouldn’t need a reason, should we? It should be the norm, a given on any team that have come together collectively for a purpose.

Why would we align our actions and energy towards anything else except that one goal? Why do we not see the power of lifting someone up as opposed to bringing them down? Where are we headed if we don’t look out for each other?

Ungrounded leaders

I cannot emphasise enough how much your own grounding matters as a leader, chef. Your own practice – whatever it might be that grounds you – is so very vital not just in helping you make better decisions, but in getting through the work day that constantly takes you off-centre. I have also witnessed this many times – if you’re all over the place, then the entire team expresses that ‘directionless’ energy.

And if you’re the kind of leader that is a pleasure to work under – open, warm and approachable – then you also have to keep in mind that you simply cannot be all things to all people.

What kind of environment do you create?

As an employer or a leader your impact on work-life balance goes way beyond the amount of annual leave you offer or whether you give your team members time off when they really need it. You also have to look at your ways of working as well as the kind of environment you create.

Does it get so stressful in your kitchen that your team struggle to unwind after a shift, chef?

Talks and workshops

Love Letters to Chefs is now offering talks and workshops at food businesses in and around London to build awareness on work-life integration in Hospitality. If you like what you read here and believe it would be valuable for your team, please send me a DM or email info@loveletterstochefs.com

Trusting

As a leader, you will find that your own work-life balance is closely linked to your relationship with trust. When so much responsibility lies in your hands, it’s only natural to worry about how your team will do or how things will get done if you’re not around. Or whether your vision will be upheld by those you delegate to.

And then you struggle to find balance, chef. But this is where humility has to come into play. You have to remember that in reality, the outcome never is and never was in your hands. That you can learn to trust someone to aim for the same outcome, just like someone trusted in you.

Setting expectations

At a former workplace, our Director would start work an hour and half before the rest of us, probably using the quiet time to make high-level decisions. The highly competitive middle managers below him also showed up early, although whether this was to display their loyalty or because of a genuinely high workload, I could never tell.

What kind of expectations around work-life integration do you (knowingly or unknowingly) set for your team, chef? You have to be conscious of what you communicate directly, as well as what you say indirectly – because people will pick up cues from all your actions too.

If you’re a leader who places value on your team’s work-life balance, then let them know, chef.

Burnout

If you’re going through a burnout, an illness or some other challenge from being too far out of balance, there is no silver lining. From my experience I remember just wanting to be out of that state as soon as possible.

We forget how closely linked to nature we are. That burning out sets into motion a kind of natural restorative process which doesn’t respect our deadlines or ambitions. We only begin to move out of it when we shift not only the things we do, but also who we are.

At whatever stage you might be, my advice to you is to acknowledge that it’s a process, chef.

What impact do you want to make?

This month my article for the Staff Canteen is built around three questions that will help you think about what kind of impact you want to make as a chef. Our journey as chefs might last for decades, but often one shift blends into the next and we don’t often get opportunities for that kind of reflection.

I suggest taking some time with the process: to think deeply about your answers. You might be a small part of a huge industry, but you can never underestimate how much of an impact you make. Even with something as simple as a kind word.

Finding balance unintentionally

Finding balance doesn’t always have to be intentional, chefs. It can also come from things you do anyway – a joke shared with your team, five minutes of quiet before service starts, stepping away for a few seconds from a task that needs intense concentration.

Those small things help us diffuse stress and they also refresh us, even if they last just for a moment. We just need to be open to those moments whenever they arise. And I know that’s not easy – especially during a busy shift!